How do you know, in the words of Carrie Bradshaw, that you won’t be struggling to “work on the sparkle”? That it won’t be “all about the couch and the take-out”.

A happy marriage is about acknowledging and appreciating your individual circumstances and accepting that it won’t happen through pure luck or accident. It will be because of the two of you working at what it takes – dedication and commitment and , occasionally, hard work to make it grow strong. But the rewards are magical.

What, exactly, are the secrets to a happy marriage?

1. Live Together Before You Get Married

One of the most important aspects of a happily married life as a couple is to be realistic in choosing your partner. Love will have its moments, but you can look forward to a happy and secure future together only if you’ve first laid a stable foundation. For many – though not all (there are obviously many perspectives on this, particularly across cultures) – that means living together. So-called “experts” suggest at least a year as an appropriate time to get to know this special person.

During this time you can not only discuss just your individual personal goals, you also get to evaluate for how these and other factors will affect your life as a married couple; to what extent you or your partner will be compromising any of the unachieved goals. It’s not just the physical living space you share and even daily routines are intertwined closely. For many married couples who have never lived together, it’s the small, random details that sometimes become amplified into major issues after the wedding. Just be aware of that. With a commitment to live together before the wedding, you learn how to make such arrangements work, to uncover and incorporate any surprises your decision will bring and to discuss your respective goals and preferences.

2. Be Honest

Building a stable foundation also means that you are true and honest to your would-be spouse. This covers not just the negatives but also the positives. With passing time, you’ll only be disgruntled if issues remains unresolved. Have an open discussion. Financial standing? Plans or having children? Impressive of his/her family? Longer term ideas for where you want to build your life?

Don’t leave questions unanswered. Communicate.

A happy marriage is when you can understand everything your partner is saying, whether directly or indirectly, with an innate ability to analyze the underlying message or desire. Be courteous and listen whenever your partner is talking to you without assuming and finishing their sentences. At one level, this is good grace to be applied to any conversation, personal or professional. But in the context of a marriage, it’s so easy to let that guard down and never realized. Don’t let that happen. After all, who deserves your respect more than the person who has decided to share the rest of their life with you? Give them your full attention. Because soon, it’ll be you on the other side and you’d expect the same from your partner, wouldn’t you?

If you’re unsure with respect to anything, go ahead and ask! Ask what they want, how they’re feeling, even questions whether you’re meeting their needs. The more you converse, especially of your expectations from each other, the more intimate and happily married you’ll be together. When your partner and you feel it’s safe to discuss opposing views over an issue, you’ll not only be able to solve problems together but also be able to believe the best in each other.

3. Look After Your Time as a Couple

As time moves on and you have kids, it becomes relatively difficult to spend quality time together as a couple, unless you put in a little more effort. Eating quiet dinners or going to the movies occasionally is healthy to maintain the connection.

Laugh with each other; there’ll always be bills to pay and stupid fights over babysitting duties or how clean the shower is, but remember to take a chill pill and be glad to be with them.

It’s crucial that you avoid comparing your relation to what other couples share. You are an independent couple and unique in your own right. Act that way and don’t play the game about keeping up with other couples or trying to mirror a lifestyle. Don’t ruin what you have by using someone else’s marriage as a benchmark. Decide what’s right for you two and don’t allow any preconceived ideas to dismantle your happy marriage.

4. Consider Change

Are you all in or are you not? There’s no middle ground. You can’t be guarded all the time post-union for fear of divorce and failed marriages abundant around you. You need to invest well emotionally for a happy marriage and, occasionally, to risk being hurt for the marriage you want. And despite being so in love with your partner as you are right now, you have to think about the possibilities of change. This is just an inevitable fact of married life – whether professionally, in terms of health, emotionally or any many other ways. As you ride through life what better strength might you possess than the chance to do so with someone who shares your dreams and your passions, alongside you every step of the way?

You have to stick through thick and thin for one another. Don’t sweat all those curveballs. Embrace them. Life moves on. Pull together through the rough tide, celebrate the good ones, and just be supportive of one another throughout.

5. Think Constant Development

It’s not uncommon for people in our society to file for divorce even after being together 20 or 30 years. When we hear this, it never ceases to surprise us. Despite our protective nature, we have this delusion that having survived all those years is synonymous to having made it, to have had a happy marriage. The need to continually invest in your marriage never goes away. You owe it to both your partner and yourself to fight complacency, always respecting and treasuring that lifelong commitment each of you made.

There’s no victory line. You’re always compromising, but it’s worth it if you work at it constantly, daily, and earnestly. You took the vow to love for better or for worse until death, remember? Been screaming a lot lately? Forgive flaws and let your resentment go if you truly want your marriage to be successful. Accept and celebrate differences and understand what motivates your partner, share. If you must fight, “fight fair” but have mutual love and respect, become friends with each others close friends and do everything to show them they matter.

These aren’t hypothetical secrets to a happy marriage. They are just common sense impressions of how to continually enrich and celebrate your life together.